SEEMA MUSTAFA | 23 JANUARY, 2020
Shaheen Bagh - No, Money Cannot Buy Them!
It is clearly difficult for persons supporting the Citizenship Amendment Act to understand why a bunch of women, homemakers who spent their lives looking after their families, have stepped out to sit on dharna. Not just for a few hours but for weeks now. So the explanation being offered by the ever willing bhakts is they are being paid. As in closed mindsets such commitment can only be for money, and hence figures of how much each woman is getting are being bandied around on the social media, and of course in comments all over.
The explanation is so simple that people without the experience of the field, and an understanding of the female psyche, tend to overlook. Or ignore. And for political reasons join in the cacophony that targets the woman, and attributes cheap motives manufactured by devious minds. For the ignorant of course. It comes from the same psychology that looks at the woman’s clothes to justify rape; that looks at her desire to work to justify domestic abuse; that looks at dowry and the expense of her upbringing to justify foeticide.
So now the world is being told that the women at Shaheen Bagh are being paid for sitting on dharna. That they are women in purdah, from conservative homes and “they are coming out only because their men have allowed them to, and their men are being paid for making them sit day and night out in the cold.” And the recipients of such propaganda nod their heads wisely and say, “yes we too were wondering how this was going on, of course they are getting money from these political parties and others like them.”
Nothing can be further from the truth. And it does not need an intellectual to explain what is going on these days, with women marching in burkha in the thousands in Malegaon, to braving the cold in Shaheen Bagh, to defying the police at Lucknow’s ghanta ghar, to women leading protests almost in every single town of India. Women have come out for one simple reason: to save their homes. Homemakers and caregivers these women did not need to march in protests before as their men were enough, but the last six years of lynchings, assault on men, detentions and arrests of their sons and husbands, has driven the women outside their homes to protect their homes.
Speak to them they will tell you. Open your ears and you will hear them. Remove the blinkers from your mind and you will understand them. And woman after woman has just this to say, they came for our boys and our men, and now with these laws they are taking away our homes, what choice do we have?
In Kashmir in the last few years women were heading the protests, facing the army in a bid to ensure that their men were not detained and arrested. In these protests is the unvoiced awareness that if women are in the lead they are able to stem state brutality to some extent. And the same is now being seen here, particularly after the twin attacks on Jamia Millia Islamia and Jawaharlal Nehru University followed almost immediately by 20 deaths and large scale arrests by the Uttar Pradesh police. Shaheen Bagh came from the same thought and reaction process, with the women just coming out to sit in protest and somehow save their menfolk and their homes. “We had to we had no other choice,” they tell you, be it in Delhi, Kanpur or Allahabad. The men are being seen by them as more vulnerable, and the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register for Citizens as laws that threaten their very existence as Indians. Hence the homemakers ---as history has ample examples of ---are out on the roads now, to save their homes and life as they know it.
As for being their with their children, yes this too has become a troll of criticism. To this again a simple answer: “where else can we leave them, we have to bring them with us.” Yes, because they do not have ayahs and nannies to look after their kids, being full time caregivers.
So no, they are not being paid. Their stakes are far higher than money. They are sitting out there in their role as homemakers --not politicians or activists---to look after their homes. By ensuring their homes remain. And in the process they have been fortunate enough to acquire a vested interest coming from the extensive support that has grown around them in Shaheen Bagh. A unity that has taken away their fear --- “we were terrified, but now we are not so scared as look at the thousands with us”--- and provided a comfort level that comes from unqualified support, be it the poet, or the musician, or the steaming cup of tea, or the warm blanket donated by unknown persons.
Those with base minds can see little beyond money. But this movement is far beyond that. And Maya Angelou understood this when she wrote a long time ago, “Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
But fortunately for India there are still these phenomenal women out there who, only as women can, have answered the need of the hour and stepped out to protect their men and their sons and their homes, and embrace their country.